By José Jaime de Domingo, Director, International Cooperation, ISOFOTON
ISOFOTON contributed to the elaboration of the Renewables Global Status Report 2013, recently published by REN 21
I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Renewables Global Status Report (the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century), bringing to the table my experience and Isofoton’s background in rural electrification for more than 30 years in 60 countries around the world.
I do think that rural electrification has significantly changed in the last years: Rural use of renewable electricity has increased with greater affordability, improved knowledge about local renewable resources, and more sophisticated technology applications. Improved technology is reducing prices of renewable energy through rural electrification so that electricity is increasingly affordable.
Moreover, the development of mini grids is also generating an understandable interest because they not only ensure the supply of electricity but mean that the systems and jobs generated are increasingly self-sustainable.
According to the report, renewable energy is key to achieving progress in bringing electricity to rural communities that do not have access to the electricity grid, enabling them to improve their living conditions and expectations. Therefore, multilateral and international institutions such as the World Bank and the European Commission have helped instil and promote the idea of renewable sources of energy as an indispensable means for rural development.
The idea has entered the political agenda in countries such as Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Peru, etc., where governments have begun ambitious plans to implement these rural electrification systems through renewable energy.
In addition, the last two decades have seen increasing private sector involvement in deployment of renewable in remote and rural areas, spurred by new business models and increasing recognition that low-income customers can offer fast-growing markets.
Rural electrification as a catalyst of progress
Extreme poverty is concentrated mainly in the rural world of the least developed countries.
The greatest problem faced in the rural world is isolation. The lack of connectivity of infrastructures and the absence of services increases the perception of isolation and political and administrative distancing from centres of power; in other words, it leads to the feeling of “not belonging” to the society that aims to include them.
Exit from poverty is conditioned on the level of access to opportunities, education, health, justice, infrastructures, energy, etc., under the umbrella of good governance. Access to these rights stimulates entrepreneurship and generates income.
There is a universal consensus that access to energy is essential for human development, the eradication of poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Goals.
Today one cannot imagine a decent life without the use of modern forms of energy. Electricity is a key element for welfare and the development of peoples, as it means that they can work efficiently, compete under equal conditions in the market and access information via the Internet.
The use of sources of renewable energy by systems isolated from the main grid, whether through individual systems or mini grids, provides operative and real solutions for supplying electricity to isolated rural areas. The choice of most appropriate technology is closely linked to specific local conditions, but there are grounds for considering that photovoltaic energy provides the best performance, both because the solar resource exists across the whole planet, and because of the technological progress that has been made, which allows electrical energy to be supplied at competitive prices.